That Scandalous Summer
Ever since drunken, screwed up Liza first appeared in Bound By Your Touch, mewling after her unfaithful lover, I wondered if she would have her story. After all, sexual sophisticates are catching on in historicals, but real, hero-finds-heroine-snoring-in-the-rose-bushes flaws? Less so. So the biggest question in my mind wasn’t whether Ms. Duran would ever do justice to the beautiful Mrs. Chudderley, but whether she would even see the light of day.
That Liza has her own story – not novella, not secondary romance, but full-length novel – is evidence of the author’s skill and the editor and publisher’s trust in her, and her readers. And maybe I’m making a bigger deal out of it than the book deserves, but I don’t think Liza’s brand of screwed-up-ness appears very often in the romance world, nor are those heroines very interesting. Whereas with Liza, I wanted to know how Liza came to have her photograph for sale in all the shops. I wanted to know about Mr. Chudderley (or if he even existed). I wanted to know how she got mixed up with Nello in the first place, and about her friendship with James and Phin (heroes of previous books), and how she’d pull herself out of the alcoholic pit she’d fallen into.
Which is a long way of saying that I got some of my answers, but not all, and that I enjoyed the book, but didn’t love it. Part of the problem – okay, a lot – lay with the hero, Lord Michael de Grey, who sounds fantastic on paper, but in execution is just nowhere near as interesting as Liza. Michael’s beef is that his ducal brother has been financing his pet hospital for years while he happily tends to the sick (and shags lots of aristocratic wives). But then Alistair’s wife dies, leaving behind mountains of scandal, and Alistair refuses to marry again. Which means it’s now up to Michael to carry on the family line, and Alistair blackmails him by pulling all funding to the hospital. In protest, and hoping his brother will change his mind, Michael retreats to Cornwall.
This comes off as a bit ostrich-y, but hey, who hasn’t thrown a wee tantrum as an adult in their time? But coupled with other things he does later, and Michael strikes me as a bit of a brat. An attractive, sensitive one who falls in love with Liza, to be sure (which shows he has some good sense), but definitely immature in life, except in the sick room.
The other thing is that I think this book needs to be longer. Liza, by this time, is on the road to recovery, so to speak – she’s broken with Nello (okay, so he dumped her for a wife), she’s decided to get her life back on track and marry a rich husband, and that’s great. But I didn’t see the character growth (and messed-up-Liza-ness) that I’d been hoping to see, and I’ve read the previous books; readers who come into this new will have even less context.
Now, all that said, this is still a finely crafted story, with heart, emotion, and Ms. Duran’s trademark razor turn of phrase. I read it through mostly in one sitting and I enjoyed glimpses of James and Lydia (who are incredibly lovey-dovey through Liza’s eyes), and I am so looking forward to Liza’s ex-secretary’s story. But coming from a place of high expectations (and unavoidably unfair comparisons to the utter genius that was James and Lydia’s story), I don’t think That Scandalous Summer quite reached the potential it could have.